Local governments appealed to Texas voters seeking lots of new debt this election cycle. According to The Texan: “Eighty-one localities have placed 149 different bond issues before their constituents on ballots across Texas, totaling nearly $11 billion.”
For better or worse, voters approved a great deal of it. But not every bond proposition passed. In fact, there were at least a few high-profile defeats.
- Leander ISD: This mid-sized school district, situated north of Austin, wanted voters to approve three separate propositions totaling $772.2 million “to build at least five schools, making renovations in 13 existing campuses and updating fine arts and technology across the district.” But voters—perhaps alarmed at the $2.6 billion in total debt outstanding—refused most of the bond package. Only Proposition B ($33 million – technology) was approved while Propositions A ($727 million – facilities) and C ($11 million – upgrades) failed by narrow margins.
- Judson ISD: This San Antonio-area ISD sought voter approval for a $302 million bond package. However, voters declined each of the three propositions—Proposition A ($252.3 million – facilities), Proposition B ($14.9 million – artificial turf and other upgrades), and Proposition C ($35.3 million – technology).
- Canutillo ISD: This small El Paso school district asked voters to approve two propositions worth $187.5 million. Voters “rejected” both by wide margins.
- City of Lubbock: The Hub City wanted voters to approve “a $174,575,000 general obligation bond for street improvements.” But the city failed to persuade a majority, with 54% of voters choosing to go against it.
- East Central ISD: Another small San Antonio-area school district tried to sell voters on a large, single-item bond worth $172.5 million, and failed. About 54% of voters cast a ballot against the district’s proposal. District officials are undeterred, though, and have already said they’ll be back with another bond ask soon. Said one official: “I think next year we will come up with another bond again with community input on the areas that they feel we missed.”
Other examples abound, but hopefully this list gives the reader a sense of the electorate’s hesitancy to approve everything and anything this cycle. There are a few reasons why this might be. Here are two.
First, voters are better informed thanks to a relatively new debt transparency law. In 2019, the Texas Legislature overhauled school finance by passing House Bill 3 and made a change to require “the voting ballot to say, ‘THIS IS A PROPERTY TAX INCREASE’” on each bond proposition. Provided with this information—that there is a definite connection between new debt and new taxes—some voters may have deliberated and decided differently than they would have otherwise.
Second, voters are already paying exorbitant property taxes. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Texas’ property tax system ranks as the sixth worst in the nation, “with homeowners paying about 1.6% of their home value in property taxes per year, according to the Tax Foundation’s analysis.” It is likely that many voters simply did not want to make a bad situation worse, and chose to reject putting any more on the taxpayer credit card.